The best cheap drones are a great way to introduce your kids to the basics of flight without having to spend hundreds of dollars. You — and they — will get the hang of piloting a small aircraft around, and you won't have to worry too much when it inevitably crashes into something.
We reviewed all of these drones, evaluating them based on design, ease of use, features and overall fun. All are small and light, so you don't need to register them with the FAA. But they aren't light on features: a number have cameras that can capture video and stills, and companion apps that bring the video to your phone or tablet.
What are the best cheap drones?
After flying dozens of models, the best cheap drone under $100 is the Ryze Tech Tello. Designed by DJI — which makes some of the best drones overall — the Tello flies well and has a 720p camera with electronic image stabilization which can record pretty good video for the price. The Tello can also be programmed using Scratch, so it's also a good learning tool for kids who want to code and who also want to fly drones.
The Tello has a few camera flight modes, such as Circle, 360, and Up and Away, which can automatically record video as the drone flies a specific pattern. In addition, it can also be programmed to do flips, and can automatically take off from your hand if you lightly toss it in the air.
While Ryze advertises the Tello has having a 13-minute flight time, we were able to get about half that during our tests, so we'd advise purchasing a few spare batteries.
If you're looking for something more advanced, be sure to check out our best drones page.
The best cheap drones you can buy today
Not only is the Ryze Tech Tello a fun drone to fly, but it's designed to help kids learn to program by dropping blocks of code, LEGO-style into an app, using the Scratch programming language. There's a bit of a learning curve, though, so children may need some guidance on just how to program the Tello.
Designed by DJI, the Tello is a light but solidly built drone, with an electronically stabilized camera that can record video at 720p/30 fps and take 5MP photos. Ryze advertises the Tello has being able to fly for up to 13 minutes on a charge, but we found its flight time to be about half that. Either way, it's worth investing in a few spare batteries. The Tello also does not come with a physical remote control, so you'll have to use your smartphone (Android and iOS), unless you want to spend an extra $50 on a controller.
The Tello is available in a few different colors; there's even an Iron Man-branded model for Marvel fanatics.
The Force1 U818A is one of the larger of the best cheap drones, but most of this size is due to the built-in rotor blade guards. That’s a good thing for novice fliers: the circular blade protectors save the blades from being damaged by sticks, fingers and more. The lightweight plastic case is flimsy, and feels like it would easily break in a moderate-speed collision.
The camera hangs below the center of the drone, and can be angled manually to point from straight ahead to about 30-degrees down. Its camera can record video at a 720p resolution, stored on the microSD card that fits into the back of the camera body. The accompanying app (available for both iOS and Android) can control the drone and shows a 480P resolution video preview. This can be switched to 720p, but that gets a little glitchy when the drone is more than 20 to 25 feet away.
The U818A flies well, hovering when you release the control sticks on the small remote, but turning and banking quickly when you maneuver it around. It isn’t particularly fast, though. You get about 8 to 10 minutes of flight time from its 350mAh battery, and two are included. This combination of maneuverability, stability and battery life makes it a great pick for those who are more interested in video than aerobatics.
The PowerUp 4.0 takes paper airplanes to the next level. This little kit attaches to an ordinary airplane, and thanks to a pair of propellers, lets you pilot the plane from your smartphone. The kit comes with four pieces of paper with an airplane pattern, but you can also download patterns for free from the company's website.
As we found in our PowerUp 4.0 review, there's a bit of a learning curve and you'll need a lot of space to fly the plane. But once you get the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how far it will go.
Take a folding drone like the DJI Mavic Mini, shave off a few pounds and most of the features, and you have the Holy Stone HS160 Shadow. For less than $100, you get a drone that folds down to about the size of a TV remote and comes with a soft carrying case, two batteries and a remote control. This remote can also hold a smartphone that can show a preview from the small camera in the front of the drone when you are running the free app (available for Android and iOS). The image quality isn't great, but it does give you a decent sense of being on the drone itself.
The HS160 is not very fast, though, turning and moving rather slowly even in the fastest flight mode. It flies more like a passenger plane than a fighter jet, with slower turns and banks. This does help with the video quality, though, as the 720p video that the camera captures is less likely to break up when the drone is moving more slowly. It also means fewer crashes and collisions, although we did find that the fold-up arms of the drone had an annoying habit of folding up if the drone bumped into things.
The battery life of 5 to 6 minutes is not great, but it comes with two easily swappable batteries, so you can get some good flying in. While not the most exciting of drones, this is a good pick for the aspiring airborne filmmaker.
Do you like DJI's drones, but can't afford them? Snaptain's A15H is “inspired” by the design of the DJI Mavic Mini, right down to the way the arms fold up, but costs a quarter of the price. The A15H is a fun drone to fly, and has some neat tricks, like the ability to flip 360 degrees in the air. The controller is powered by 3 AAA batteries and looks like an XBox controller that’s been attacked by a button bedazzler: there are 16 buttons in addition to the two control sticks.
While the video is captured in 720P resolution, it's grainy and blurry, even in bright light. There is no gimbal stabilization on the camera, so you only get a straight-ahead view that bumps and shakes as the drone maneuvers. It also has a serious case of rolling shutter, where video looks wobbly.
The A15H's battery only holds about 800 mAH of charge, so you only get about five minutes of flight time. You do get two batteries, though.
The Force is with the Star Wars-themed drone, which initially cost nearly $200, but now can be had for less than $50. The controller that comes with the Propel TIE X1 Advanced not only lets you perform flips and other tricks, but has a number of sound effects and audio clips from the original trilogy. It all comes in an impressive box that plays the Star Wars theme when you open it up.
The details on the TIE X1 are pretty good, and it even looks like the ship has seen a bit of wear and tear. In flight, it's fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Propel also makes an X-Wing fighter version of this drone, as well as a Speeder bike, complete with Storm Trooper. Even better, infrared lights and sensors inside each drone let you battle with other Propel Star Wars drones; when you "hit" another drone, it will spin in the air. Too bad these drones lack cameras to capture video of your dogfights, but otherwise, they're great fun for Star Wars fans.
The Snaptain S5C has a neat, angular design complete with rather bright red and green LEDs near the motors. However, the large rotor blades are somewhat noisy in flight. The S5C can be controlled from the included controller, through the Snaptain Era app, or through hand gestures: Select this in the app, then make a two-finger victory sign at the camera and it counts down and takes a photo. Hold up an open hand with the fingers extended and it starts recording video. Do that again, and it stops recording. It’s surprisingly effective.
The S5C captures video at 1280 by 720 (720P) resolution, but the video is rather grainy and noisy. There is no image stabilization, so every bump and dip of the drone is captured, along with a pronounced rolling shutter effect, where the video looks like wobbly jell-o.
Even though the S5C is light — it gets blown off course easily —it's underpowered. Set the drone flying forwards, and it loses altitude because the motors can’t run fast enough to keep the altitude up. The S5C comes with two matchbook-sized rechargeable batteries, each of which can power the drone for about 7 to 8 minutes of flight.
The Drocon X708W Cyclone lives up to the name: It's a nippy little drone that can turn and move at a considerable speed. That means it requires a light touch on the sticks of the large included remote: Move too fast, and the drone could easily zoom out of control.
The X708W's camera captures either video or still images, though its resolution of 640 x 480 is lower than that of other drones on this list. The drone's app, available for iOS and Android devices, lets you preview or record the video from this camera on your phone, although the video is somewhat blurry and grainy when the drone is moving. You can fly the drone either from this app or the included remote control.
Flight time is between 5-10 minutes, but the drone comes with two batteries, so you can get a bit more fun out of the drone before you have to head back to the hangar.
Some people may be fine with paying $20 for a fancy sandwich, but what about a drone? Laying down a Jackson will get you the no-frills GoolRC T36 drone. At just over 3 inches wide, it's tiny but surprisingly tough, with blade protectors around the rotors and a 3-minute flight time from the tiny, 190-mAh rechargeable battery. The drone comes with a spare set of rotor blades, two lithium-ion batteries and a charger, while its diminutive remote is powered by three AAA batteries.
The T36 is a fun drone to fly, with a decent amount of speed and maneuverability. It is bare-bones, though: There's no camera, only a few simple stunts and no GPS. It does include a feature called "return-to-home," but that's just a fancy name for a mode that sets the drone to fly in only one direction and then return when you push the right stick up. Still, it's a fun little drone, and for $20, there won't be too many tears if it gets lost up a tree.
What do you get if you cross a snowboard, a paraglider and a drone? The Air Hogs Extreme Air Board. It's a combination of all three that flies like a snowboard (but in the air) when you clip the figure on the top of the board, or flies as a paraglider when you hang the figure underneath and attach the plastic paraglider wing.
It's simple to convert the drone from one to the other. Just make sure that you set the switch on the remote to the right mode for the drone setup, or it will be a short flight: The drone crashes immediately if you are in the wrong mode.
In both modes, the drone is simple to control: Tap the takeoff button and the four rotors (two contra-rotating blades on each side) whir into life, and the drone takes off and hovers about three feet in the air. You then use the small control sticks to maneuver. The shoulder button puts it into stunt mode: Click this and push the right control stick up, and it will do a backside flip in snowboard mode or a move called the cyclone in paraglider mode. Overall, it's a simple, fun drone to fly that offers some interesting tricks, with the two different flight modes adding to the fun of the flight.
When you open the packaging of the Supernova, you might think there's something missing: There is no remote control. Fortunately, the Supernova uses something you already have as a controller: your hands. This unusual quadcopter has five ultrasonic sensors, one on each side and one on the bottom, which it uses to detect your hands, and then it tries to keep a certain distance away. The end effect makes it like a slightly paranoid friend: It wants to get close, but not too close. Put your right hand close to it, and it will move away to the left. Your left hand moves it right and a hand underneath makes it climb. Push your hand quickly toward it, and it backs off faster and farther away.
With some practice, you can use your hands to keep it hovering next to you as you walk around, or pass it between two people. There are also a number of tricks it can do: Swipe twice with your right hand and once with your left, and the drone will orbit around you once. Swipe three times on the drone's right and once on its bottom, and it does what Air Hogs calls an Elevator Spin, where it climbs and spins around, then reverses the spin and drops back to the starting point.
It's a lot of fun to fly, but you should only fly it indoors, as it is very prone to getting knocked about by breezes. Also, the gaps in the frame are wide enough for fingers to inadvertently slip inside and get caught. The short flight time (and subsequent 1-hour recharging time) is also a little frustrating, and it takes some time to get used to. But, these caveats aside, this is a fun drone for kids who want to get really hands on.
The Potensic A20 is a cute little drone that has a surprising number of features for $40. There's no camera, but you do get auto takeoff and landing, as well as an altitude- and heading-hold mode. The latter two make it easier to learn to fly by handling takeoff and keeping the altitude or heading (the direction in which the drone is pointing) fixed while allowing you to maneuver in other ways.
These are a big help for the novice pilot, as they make it much easier to figure out how the different controls interact with one another. The A20 is not a fast drone, though, and it is easily buffeted by breezes and drafts. It's fairly zippy when you engage the higher-power modes, but with about 5 minutes of flight time, you don't get much time to practice. Fortunately, it comes with two batteries.
How to choose the best cheap drone for you
When shopping for a cheap drone under $100, you're going to have to make some compromises, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good drone at this price.
For starters, the flight time for most cheap drones rarely exceeds 10 minutes, and it often takes upwards of half an hour to recharge them. You'll want to buy a drone that has a removable battery, and then purchase at least two spare batteries so that you can spend more than a few minutes flying a drone before you have to go back inside for the rest of the day.
Many cheap drones now come equipped with cameras, so you can shoot aerial photos and videos. However, unlike top-end drones, the cameras in these models are pretty basic; they're not mounted on a gimbal, so footage is likely to be a little shaky, and the quality will be worse than what you'll find on most smartphones. But, it should provide you with a pretty fun experience nonetheless.
If you're buying a drone for your kid, we also recommend drones that have easily replaceable rotors, as well as optional propeller guards. Your child is going to smash the drone into a tree, wall, or some other object, so prop guards and replacement rotors will help keep your purchase from becoming a worthless piece of junk after its first crash.
How we test drones
Testing the best cheap drones under $100 is similar to testing more expensive drones. We take them out and fly them!
Of course, we don't expect drones that cost less than $100 to perform the same as ones that cost four, or ten times as much, so we temper our expectations accordingly.
Still, we expect a cheap drone to be relatively easy to fly and able to hover smoothly in the air. Considering that many are geared towards children and novice fliers, you shouldn't have to spend all your effort just trying to keep the drone steady.
Increasingly, cheap drones have cameras, and while their resolution and capabilities are more limited, we test these cameras too to see how they compare to similarly priced drones. We don't expect the sharpest pictures and video, but you should be able to make out details clearly.
As mentioned, cheap drones don't have the longest flight times — you can expect 15 minutes, tops — but we also evaluate the companies' claims versus reality, as conditions, such as even mildly windy days, can negatively affect performance.
Most of all, though, the drone should be fun to fly.